Normally this blog is focused on my academic work and scholarship by others. A close friend and I were talking and the issue came up about my living with diabetes. I shared the text below with him and thought maybe someone else might find it useful. Unfortunately, diabetes is a fraternity that is gaining too many new members every day.
Dealing with Disease by Youself
When you live alone, you do not have the luxury to just "lose it" by weeping or crying with the knowledge that the partner/spouse is there to excessively comfort, listen to the long complaints, and the rest. I have the day job as professor at the University of Minneosta to keep me going and feel responsible to the kids in my history courses to show up prepared, grade their homework promptly, and attend meetings.
The Defining Moment
My defining moment came when I was having my blood tested for being slightly anemic (a common diabetic fellow-traveler, not a big deal). My general practitioner doctor sent me to the best doctor at the helath complex on the Minnesota campus for that, the hematology clinic. I had no idea what it was. Just another of the numerous clinics in this sprawling complex of buildings. When I walked in I quickly realized this clinic served a large number of cancer patients. Then I saw the child. Probably six years old and lying on a gurney, too weak even for a wheelchair I guess. It was impossible to guess the gender of the child. The skin was like that of a white ceramic doll. Except no facial or top hair. The child's eyes were open, but lifeless. I locked gaze with the child for a moment. I think I tried to smile. No reaction from the child. At that moment, I guessed the child would never live to see Christmas. That was the moment when all my angst over the numerous system failures of my body melted away.
Chronic vs. Acute Disease
Diabetes is a chronic, but not an acute disease. You die a little bit more each day and realize if you are lucky, you can finish life with most of your foot and only lose one or two decades of living. Not all the afflictions hit you at once. It is sort of like going to Baskin Robbins. Trouble takes a number and waits its turn to attack. I have a skilled family of doctors, staff, facilities, cheap prescriptions to keep going. I try to help with going to the YMCA for exercise, watch what I eat at home, don't go out and eat steaks the size of car hubcaps, only eat out when doing so with a friend, and the rest.
I take ownership for causing all or part of my affliction and realize that genetics also played a part. My body humbles me and encourages me to seek support from God rather than leaning on a family. All life is precious and should be lived to the maximum. I know too many people who died early from diabetes, particularly those from type one diabetes. That was pure genetics and they contributed nothing to the consequences of the disease. I feel responsible to those who are not here anymore.
A Slogan for Life
I now include a saying at the bottom of my email messages. I used to detest the email postscript message from others. They always looked so happy and sometimes appeared to be trite. Now I include the following message: "Every day is Christmas when we make good choices. Those choices unwrap unexpected presents of joy that await us if we do our part and trust God for the rest." I get the chance everyday to make choices. Maybe not as many choices are available as be fore. A favorite line from a Huey Lewis and the News song, "The Heart of Rock and Roll" says when talking about New York City where you can "...do half a million things at a quarter-to-three (in the morning). I'm in bed at 3 am. But no complaints from me.
Lots of people have stuff to deal with. Some people with disabilities talk about others who do not appear to have physical problems as "TABS". That stands for "temporarily able-bodied (TAB)". It is not generally said in a mean way, but a recognition that eventually everyone will be afflicted short-term or long-term before they leave this planet. For me, I focus more on enjoying each day and happy I have choices to make. May I make them wisely. I am a different person today as a result of diabetes. I would like to think I am a better person. I would prefer to have learned my lessons and shaped my character in a different way, but if this was the path to get where I am, so be it. May your journey in life be one that makes you a better person.